What is accreditation and why is it important that your distance learning degree is accredited?
To put it simply, accreditation is as an attempt to ensure a basic level of quality in education through peer evaluation. The U.S. government does not have centralized authority over accreditation, but rather it is a peer controlled process by institutions.
National Accreditation. National accreditation is typically for institutions that are for-profit and offer vocational, career, or technical programs. There are at least 52 recognized national accrediting bodies that each has its own policies and standards for accreditation. For distance learning programs, the Department of Education recognizes the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) as general in nature and national in scope.
The DETC was first recognized by the U.S. government in 1959 and has the following scope of recognition: the accreditation of postsecondary institutions in the United States that offer degree programs primarily by the distance education method up to and including the professional doctoral degree, and are specifically certified by the agency as accredited for Title IV purposes; and for the accreditation of postsecondary institutions in the United States not participating in Title IV that offer programs primarily by the distance education method up through the professional doctoral degrees.
The United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) offers The Distance Learning Accreditation Board (DLAB) that focuses on three main aspects: evaluating the effectiveness of distance learning, evaluating the quality of institutions, and providing information on quality assurance of distance learning.
One should note that there are also specialized and professional accreditors that are recognized by the USDE, CHEA membership, or membership in the Association of Professional and Specialized Accreditors. An example is the American Bar Association.
Regional Accreditation. There are six geographic regions that offer regional accreditation, usually to public and nonprofit private educational institutions. Credits do not always transfer between nationally accredited institutions and regionally accredited institutions since some people view regional accreditation as having a higher quality standard.
You should ask the specific school you plan to enroll in if your previously earned credits will count for you.
The six different regional accreditors for higher education are:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Association of Accredited Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Religious Accreditation. Religious schools may qualify for secular national accreditation or regional accreditation, but sometimes they instead opt to be accredited by one of four different agencies. These include:
- Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS)
- Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE)
- Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS)
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS)
Unaccredited Institutions. Sometimes colleges or universities choose not to go through the accreditation process for a variety of reasons. Sometimes institutions do not have enough staff or money to go through the process, some religious institutions think accreditation will put limits on teaching their beliefs, and other groups simply want to run diploma mills that sell diplomas for cash without any merit behind them.